Tom Chick

What does Project Cars 3 have that other racing games don’t?

, | Game reviews

Racing isn’t just about speed.  Speed is the goal, sure.  But the important part is knowing when to relinquish speed.  The important part is figuring out when and how much to slow down.  It’s hardly surprising most racing videogames downplay this part.  In most videogames, you mash down the accelerator, feel the exhilaration, and have a win!  But what’s distinct about Project Cars 3 — at least among consumer-friendly racing games — is that it downplays speed.  It emphasizes precision, consistency, calculation, practice.  Project Cars 3 has plenty of speed, but that’s not what it’s about.  Instead, it’s a game based on driving well.  And it’s about more than that.  It’s ultimately about something too few racing games know how to express.

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Worst thing you’ll see since the Kavanaugh hearings: Promising Young Woman

, | Movie reviews

The premise of Emerald Fennell’s #MeToo era power fantasy is that all men are rapers.  Hardly a provocative statement these days, and certainly one women have earned the right to indulge.  But Promising Young Woman isn’t done yet.  It further supposes that they can be shamed into comeuppance.  And if that doesn’t work, by golly, things might have to get drastic!

There’s indisputable value in these reversed power fantasies, especially as they break free of their exploitative roots.  Coraline Fargeat’s lurid lovely Revenge and Jennifer Kent’s achingly poignant The Nightingale are recent examples of how women have wrested control of rapesploitation from the vulgar filmmakers who used to cash in on it.  Enter Promising Young Woman with its bubbly “I want to play, too!” approach.  But it’s facile premise that men just need to be shamed isn’t exactly thrilling, and more to the point, it’s egregiously out of touch with reality.  Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life, and regardless of what did or didn’t happen with Christine Blasey Ford, he outed himself as an entitled frat boy who doesn’t have the disposition to be a Supreme Court justice.  But Promising Young Woman supposes a world where his tantrums would have ended his judicial career, and if that didn’t do it, then by golly, it just takes the martyrdom of some promising young woman.  Roll the title card, which will read “The End” in a curlicue font.

At least it isn’t as embarrassingly bad as Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas, which takes a similarly facile approach to its indictment of rape culture (the rapers in Black Christmas don’t even need their positions of power and privilege, because they have magical black goo).  Fennell shoots Promising Young Woman with a candy-colored enthusiasm and a lively cast.  Carey Mulligan has a grand time playing a self-assured vigilante of shame with literally no fucks to give.  It’s nice to see her flexing confidence when she so often plays frail characters pulled along by the plot.  She and Bo Burnham, towering above her at 6’5″, make quite the couple.  Burnham’s effusive charm is a real joy to watch, and it’s easy to see how he fosters the kind of trust it took to make Eighth Grade with Elise Fisher.  Otherwise, Fennell squanders several talented actors in thankless roles.  That’s how you’re going to use the wonderful Sam Richardson?

The big finale, which will be spoiled if you watch trailers, is especially ridiculous for its attempted last-minute twist, which feels like a cheat instead of a twist.  Fennell would have you believe that Carey Mulligan’s character — called Cassie, but listed in the credits as Cassandra in case you didn’t get it — was one step ahead of everyone else all along.  Which might make for a fun grrl power fantasy, but it’s not much of a contribution to any conversation about rape culture, the #MeToo movement, or even revenge thrillers.

Under Falling Skies unfortunately lives up to its name

, | Game reviews

One of my favorite boardgame designs is Troyes.  Although it relies on dice, it’s not about chasing sixes.  Normally, dice games are all about seeing how many high numbers you can roll.  Over the course of the game, you have to work through the peaks and valleys of sixes and ones, which feels more like following the course of a river than actually planning anything.  Luck pulls the game, but your strategy is an oar you can use to splash around in the water.  Troyes is different for how it’s never about seeing how many high numbers you can roll.  In Troyes, a one can be just as welcome as a six.

Under Falling Skies works on this same principle.

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Who needs a blue shell when you can fling Wreckfest’s snowball?

, | Games

The latest update for Wreckfest adds a winter track with snow on the road. Which is slippery, sure. But in a racing game like Wreckfest, slippery isn’t enough. Slippery is just the means to the end, and the end is Wreckfest’s glorious damage model. What good is losing control of your car and banging into a wall if you can’t crumple fenders, smash radiators, and twist axels? Wreckfest loves how cars break.

Which is where the giant snowballs come into play. Now cars can be crushed by giant snowballs during the demotion derby events. It’s all part of today’s free Winter Fest update.

In case a Battleship movie wasn’t enough, how about an entire TV show of Risk?

, | Games

Hasbro will not be stopped after a Battleship movie. Now they’re announcing a Risk TV series. Which will probably last for about six insufferable hours and then collapse after an acrimonious argument among friends. From the Variety story:

[Beau] Willimon (“House of Cards,” “The First”), an Academy-award nominee and avid fan of Risk, will be writing and overseeing the production of the scripted series. 

Avid Risk fan Willimon’s Academy Award nomination is for the Ides of March script he did with George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Hopefully the script will emphasize that you should never, under any circumstance, let someone grab Australia while everyone else is fighting for the larger continents.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is what happens when everything comes together perfectly

, | Game reviews

I kept waiting.  At some point, it was going to do something to disappoint me.  There was going to be some misstep or oversight or shortcut, something that wasn’t fully developed or that should have been cut.  Something that didn’t seem to fit.  Something weak or wrong.  But Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of those rare games that never let me down.  Not once.  Every time I played, I ended up smiling at its insight, confidence, charm, and humor.

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If Werner Herzog made a driving game, it would be Snowrunner

, | Game reviews

Speed is a cheap vulgar thrill.  It has none of the tension or innate drama of torque.  You cannot savor speed the way you can savor the interaction of traction and mass.  Speed wants nothing to do with the earth.  It wants to leave it.  But torque wants to defeat it, to prevail over it, to wrestle with it and throw it down and then tear loose from it to declare the victory of forward motion.  Torque is determined to triumph.  Torque is a battle.  Torque grapples and struggles.  Speed was barely even here.

That’s the premise of Snowrunner, and Mudrunner before it, and Spintires before that, all games about trucks wrestling with bad roads.  Videogames have been letting us go fast for as long as they’ve been around.  But the unique contribution of the Spintires line, which has its fullest expression in Snowrunner, is its intimacy with the ground.  If you’ve ever driven a manual transmission, you know what I’m talking about.  

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Just when you though it was safe to ignore collectible card games, Mythgard shows up

, | Game reviews

I was done.  I was finished with head-to-head card battling.  So little has changed since Richard Garfield invented it with Magic: The Gathering back in 1973 or thereabouts.  Build up mana, spend it to bring out cards with an attack and defense value, tap the cards to attack, win when you’ve done 20 points of damage to the other guy.  All these decades later, so little has changed.  Consider Hearthstone, a gleaming nugget of integrated game design and business model, polished nearly to the point of featurelessness.

Sure, there have been variations and even innovation.  I’ve recently enjoyed Faeria for how it situates the action on a board built by the players as the match unfolds.  Pretty clever.  But even that only goes so far.  If I’m going to match attack and block values, I need something more.  And no game has enough something more to keep me interested.

Until now.

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Art of Rally runs on an idyll engine

, | Game reviews

It’s been an, uh, interesting year for rally games.  Dirt 5, which was already kind of superfluous given the amount of content in Dirt 4, took a new direction…and then drove right into a ditch.  WRC9 continued that series’ remarkable campaign mode, which shifts the traditional caRPG structure from RP’ing as your favorite car to RP’ing as a rally team that’s not necessarily concerned with any specific car.  But what’s been most interesting this year is a joyous and seemingly tiny rally racing game unlike any other.

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Why I’ll be playing Code Vein long after I’ve given up on Dark Souls

, | Game reviews

It would be easy to fire up Code Vein, run around some of the early game areas, and conclude that it’s a Dark Souls soul in an anime body (amply bosomed ladies and androgynous boys with spiky coifs and freakishly large eyes).  You wouldn’t be wrong.  But to appreciate Code Vein, you have to wrap your head around something that’s initially confusing.  Obtuse, even.  Certainly not like anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s not going to be easy to understand, and before you fully comprehend it, you might have decided to just return to whatever other Dark Souls clone you prefer.  Its inscrutability in Code Vein won’t stop you.

But it’s the main reason I’ll be playing this weird little thing long after I would have given up if it were just a Dark Souls clone.

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Desperados III, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Savescum

, | Game reviews

To appreciate Desperados III, you have to understand that videogame time is not linear.  Videogame time allows you to rewind and try again.  Over and over, if necessary, until you get it right.  In most games, I’ve seen this as a failure, on my part and on the part of the design.  I already played this bit and it didn’t work out, so why would I want to replay it?  Why would I want to replay it over and over?

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You can dive into Creeper World 4 in a way you couldn’t dive into Creeper World 3

, | Game reviews

One of the greatest feats of engineering is holding back oceans.  Also the oldest feat of engineering.  Check out the first page of the Bible if you don’t believe me.  It was the earliest bit of business God had to do before getting around to the stuff in the rest of the pages.  This is also the premise of the Creeper World games.  Divide the land from the waters. Hold back an ocean.  Tame it, in fact.

If this isn’t a God game, I don’t know what is.

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The most palindrome thing you’ll see all week: Tenet

, | Movie reviews

Did no one explain to Christopher Nolan that the premise for Tenet is absurd?  I don’t mean that as a criticism.  I’m just being descriptive.  Plenty of solid sci-fi works from an absurd premise.  And to Nolan’s credit, it’s an exciting premise.  When it’s introduced, the undeniable pull of Tenet is “how the heck is he going to make a movie out of this?”  It almost sustains the two-and-a-half-hour running time.

But as that running time stretches out and contorts, it becomes increasingly clear that Nolan is taking it all very very seriously.  He will not be fooling around.  He will not admit there’s a fundamental but fascinating silliness to what he’s doing.  Even the carefully practical visuals can be silly.  But it’s a silliness in which the guy telling the joke doesn’t know it’s a joke.  He gives it no levity, he has no sense for the cadence of a joke, he leaves off the punchline.  It dawns on you he doesn’t realize the joke is a joke.  He’s telling it as if it were data.  

Tenet belongs with someone who understands absurdity.  Like the Coen brothers, or Charlie Kaufman, or the latest generation of Spanish language writers and directors.  Nolan should have at least let someone explain to him the concept of the absurd, and maybe even humor.  I can’t remember a single light-hearted moment in Tenet.  It is ponderous with the weight of its seriousness.  

Consider the lead actor.  John David Washington is ponderous with the weight of his own seriousness.  But he doesn’t have his father’s gravitas.  Denzel Washington has built a career on the way he holds a gaze.  John David Washington has his father’s gaze, but none of its depth.  He just reads as blank. Nolan’s movies need the drive of a Heath Ledger or a Matthew McConaughey.  They need someone to inject a little passionate chaos into the meticulous plotting.  Tenet barely offers the soothing reassurance of Michael Caine.  It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo that feels like its there out of a sense of obligation (Nolan’s to Caine or Caine’s to Nolan?).

Even the spectacle in Tenet feels too tightly controlled and dispassionate.  The airplane doesn’t break, none of the trucks flip ass-over-teakettle, the battle scene declines to bother with enemy soldiers.  Honestly, I have no idea who we were fighting during the big battle scene.  It’s as if someone started the Call of Duty match before anyone joined the other team.  Sure, it’s all spectacular, cinematic, and characteristically bombastic.  No one makes me long for an Imax screen like Nolan.  I love how cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema captures Nolan’s precise art production, burnished colors, and clean lines.  Can cinematography be brutalist?  But beyond the usual Nolan spectacle, the only thing on offer in Tenet is a premise that folds in on its own lack of self-awareness.